Will Bama's NFL pipeline continue?
Against Michigan in 2012, the Crimson Tide fielded 11 current NFL players on offense at one time (not counting Eddie Lacy!)...can that happen with the Tide's current roster?
Recently, the mothership (SBNation) shared this eye-catching graphic regarding the Crimson Tide's 2012 opening season offensive personnel. (Click here if you'd like the link to the full SBNation piece.)
While shocking in its own right, what is even more surprising is that current All-Pro running back Eddie Lacy was waiting in the wings on this particular play. Not to mention the fact that many considered the Tide defense to be the strength of the 2012 team.
While this revelation is obviously manna for Gump Nation (and conversely, food for trolls of all allegiances), it is nothing short of astounding considering the talent level necessary to warrant a shot in the NFL, let alone a roster spot. It is a tribute not only to Coach Nick Saban's perennial dominance in recruiting elite high school talent, but the level of development his staff achieves with the young players once they arrive on campus.
Sure, this type of freakish circumstance occurs from time to time, and Bama is not an exclusive member of this group. But the infographic begs the question: can Alabama's current roster of talent achieve the same level of success?
Let's take a look at the Bama roster beneath this NFL lens and determine if such a synchronicity of elite talent can happen at the Capstone in the near future.
There is definitely NFL caliber talent in Tuscaloosa, that much is certain. First, we'll take a look at a few of the "sure bets" to make it to the League in the next two years.
- Derrick Henry, RB, Junior: Anyone who has seen what Derrick Henry does to opposing defenses knows that he will one day make some NFL club very happy. The rushing equivalent of a receiver who requires double coverage, there are few defenders who can bring Henry down on their lonesome. He runs through, he runs around, he runs over. He makes defenders pay a price, a the currency is pain. El Tractorcito only requires a gap and a head of steam to maul defenses, and heaven forbid if he gets the corner at full speed. He has the size, speed and demeanor to be a very attractive option at tailback in the NFL, especially in light of his progress in pass pro.
- Kenyan Drake, RB, Senior: After a year that ended prematurely to injury, Kenyan Drake made the wise decision to stay in Tuscaloosa for his senior season. That's not to say that Drake wouldn't have gotten a call in the NFL Draft this past April, as he has proven himself an elite talent despite limited playing time over the last several years. His combination of speed, elusiveness and explosiveness has stunned opposing defenses. Add into the equation that he is a lethal receiving threat out of the back field, and you'll understand why Bama will likely put two running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft if Henry elects to leave after his junior year.
- O.J. Howard, TE, Junior: From the time he committed to Alabama, O.J. Howard has electrified the Crimson Tide fan base. A throwback that conjures nostalgia of another former TE great who wore crimson, Ozzie Newsome, Howard combines great size with elite speed and ball skills. Howard illustrated his impact early as a freshman when he hauled in a long A.J. McCarron pass against LSU and ran away from the Tiger secondary like a 6'6" gazelle. Though he hasn't been used as prolifically as many fans would like, savvy NFL scouts know what Howard has to offer, especially in today's tight end-friendly offensive schemes. Tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis have opened the door for players like Howard, and he will undoubtedly settle in with an NFL squad sooner rather than later.
- Ryan Kelly, C, Senior: Oft criticized, Ryan Kelly has been a constant work in progress in his time at Alabama. A tallish lineman for the role of center, Kelly has struggled with leverage at times. However, his technique is as solid as it can be, especially when asked to handle defenders to whom he doesn't cede the decided center of gravity advantage. He has also served as a leader on a young offensive line in recent times, and has served as a veteran anchor in the trenches. While I don't know that Kelly will get the nod as a center in the NFL, his combination of size and athleticism will land him a shot at a spot on an NFL roster as a lineman in the future.
- Cameron Robinson, LT, Sophomore: Cameron Robinson is the only freshman to ever start at left tackle for Nick Saban. That, in and of itself, indicates that Robinson will likely find a spot in the NFL in due time. However, after his inaugural season, Robinson's future became even more clear, as he dominated SEC defensive linemen with relative ease. A huge specimen at 6'6" and 323 pounds, his size alone would have NFL scouts drooling. Combine that with fantastic footwork, great leverage and excellent instincts, and CamRob could be one of the best linemen to ever call the Capstone home. He will definitely be a first round draft pick all too soon.
- Reggie Ragland, LB, Senior: In 2014, Reggie Ragland was tagged the heir apparent to four-year stalwart linebacker (and current Baltimore Raven) C.J. Mosley. While aspiring to a lofty standard indeed, Ragland did his best to replace the unreplaceable Mosley, becoming the anchor of the Tide linebacking corps and garnering plenty of attention from NFL scouts himself. With a rare combination of speed, strength, athleticism and instinct, Ragland established himself as an NFL prospect, so much so that there was question as to whether he would return to Tuscaloosa for his senior year. Fortunately for Tide fans, Ragland elected to stay for his senior season, a decision which can only help further enamor pro scouts with his skill set.
- D.J. Pettway, DL, Senior: Nick Saban believes in second chances. Fortunately for D.J. Pettway, he has thus far made his second chance count. After being accepted back into the fold, Pettway made his impression felt on a Crimson Tide defensive line that was amongst the deepest in the nation in 2014. With great size, speed, aggressiveness and elite pass rushing ability, Pettway will definitely find a spot on an NFL roster, especially if his 2015 tops the year he had in 2014.
- Jarran Reed, DL, Senior: Another Crimson Tide defender who would likely have been drafted in 2015, Jarran Reed made his first year at Alabama as a junior college transfer a memorable one. Another large aggressive man in a wall of large aggressive men along the Alabama defensive line, Reed caught the eyes of scouts last fall with his physical play, ability to shed blocks and disruptive nature in the center of the defense. There was talk that Reed could have been a draft selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, but the defensive lineman decided to return for his senior year to cement his standing. A run plugger with elite pass rushing ability, it would be a shock if Reed was still on the board after the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft.
- A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Junior: The 6'4", 320 pound Texan has been a force for the Crimson Tide since arriving on campus as a true freshman. A'Shawn Robinson came to Alabama as an 18 year old in the body of a grown man, a physical specimen who quickly impressed with his speed and leverage. He often requires double teams, thus freeing his fellow defenders to break the levee and get after the passer. And even then, those double teams are not always successful. Robinson's technique is advanced for a lineman with only two years of college playing time under his belt, and combined with his size and quickness, it separates him as an elite defender among elite defenders. Robinson is Bama's most pro-ready lineman as a rising junior, and considering the company, that's saying a lot.
- JK Scott, P, Sophomore: JK Scott is so good, he needs a superhero back story. Maybe he was bitten in the leg by a radioactive spider or exposed to some particle accelerator explosion that gave him super leg strength. Maybe he's just some Kryptonian-human hybrid...but the things the fellow does with his punting leg are downright superhuman. Few players in Alabama's illustrious history designated themselves as future NFL players in their first six games of college play, but Scott did that...and then some. Scott can flip the field with his cannon leg and render void the mistakes of a struggling offense. Four and out, you say? No problem, as Scott will have the opponent pinned inside their own ten yard line. You won't hear a punter labeled as a "weapon" very often, but Scott is one of Bama's most deadly.
A few players are on the cusp of NFL potential, needing only a stage upon which to make their respective final cases. Count among this group the likes of Cyrus Jones, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Denzell Devall. All of these defenders have the ability to make the leap to the league, with a few of them already likely late round draft picks or free agents. Jones, Allen and Devall will likely get their shots, but solid performances in 2015 count cement their status. Anderson and Williams both fill crucial and coveted roles as pass rushers, and breakout performances this fall could put them on the radar of pro scouts.
The lone offensive "honorable mention" is quarterback Jacob Coker. In the second year of his Crimson Tide career, there's no way to know what the future holds. Blessed with arm talent and a prototype NFL quarterback's size and build, Coker could be a late round prize for an NFL team in need of a quarterback. If he puts up the kind of stats Blake Sims posted in 2014, Coker will be a hot commodity, with his physical measurables and a year of successful field generalship under his belt. However, Coker hasn't even definitively won the starting role for his senior campaign at Alabama. While he has the physical talent to interest NFL squads, it will take an incredible 2015 (if he wins the starting job at all) to get the attention of the League. That's not out of the realm of possibility, but without an Amari Cooper on the roster, that future outcome is clouded, at best.
Obviously, the above mentioned players won't fill out an offensive or defensive roster. They are the players who have proven that they are likely future NFL'ers. The Alabama roster is rife with talent that could one day evolve into the type of player that NFL teams covet. However, at this point in their nubile careers, to speculate on such a future would be premature. The following players could be future NFL stalwarts, but at the moment, it's just too early to speculate.
- Tony Brown, CB, Sophomore
- Marlon Humphrey, CB, RS Freshman
- Blake Barnett, QB, Freshman
- David Cornwell, QB, RS Freshman
- Robert Foster, WR, Sophomore
- Ar'Darius Stewart, WR, Sophomore
- Bo Scarbrough, RB/ WR, Freshman
- Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Sophomore
- Reuben Foster, LB, Sophomore
- Ronnie Harrison, S, Freshman
- Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Sophomore
- Rashaan Evans, LB, Sophomore
- Christian Miller, LB, Freshman
- J.C. Hassenauer, OL, Sophomore
- Ross Pierschbacher, OL, RS Freshman
After years of top-ranked recruiting classes, the Alabama Crimson Tide roster is loaded with elite talent. Will that talent parlay into NFL success in the future? For some Bama players (like Cameron Robinson and Derrick Henry), the future is a foregone conclusion. Others will emerge, as has been the case in the past. Will Alabama ever again field 11 NFL players at one time on either side of the ball? Only time will tell. But with continued excellence in recruiting, there's as a good a chance of it happening in Tuscaloosa as anywhere.